HSLDA News
January 13, 2003

Texas Legislature Opens for 2003 Session

As you may know, the Texas legislature is meeting from January through May, 2003. What you may not realize is that these 181 men and women will be considering an estimated 9,000 pieces of legislation in less than five months. This breaks down to more than 80 bills per day, leaving an average of 6 minutes to read, amend, and vote on each bill.

The Home School Legal Defense Association is committed to stopping any legislation that may harm Texas homeschoolers. We are committed to promoting any legislation that would expand your freedom to homeschool. Our electronic legislation tracking service notifies us of any bills that refer to issues that relate to homeschooling rights: homeschools, private schools, parents rights, religious liberty, compulsory attendance, child welfare code, teacher certification, university admission standards, curfews, education tax credits, etc. We carefully analyze these bills and continue to monitor their progress through the legislature.

As we learn of new legislation that may affect your family, we will be in contact with our Texas legislative counsel, Tom Sanders. A Houston area lawyer and veteran homeschool father, Tom has worked regularly with HSLDA for the past 16 years in defense of homeschool freedoms. HSLDA has retained him to personally visit the Capitol in Austin and lobby on your behalf. We will notify you by email of any action you can take to impact these bills.

Of the legislation introduced thus far in 2003, we know of at least two pre-filed bills that will affect homeschool freedoms.

S.B. 30-Lowers the Compulsory Attendance Age From Six Years to Five

Senator Judith Zaffirini is back. Once again, this representative is trying to impose mandatory kindergarten on all families in Texas.

Changing the compulsory attendance age would subject Texas home educators to the requirements of a compulsory attendance law one year earlier. Many education experts have concluded that beginning a child's formal education too early may actually result in burn out and poor scholastic performance later. In addition, lowering the compulsory attendance age erodes the authority of parents—who are in the best position to determine when their child's formal education should begin.

Another significant impact of expanding the compulsory attendance age would be the inevitable tax increase to pay for more classroom space and more teachers to accommodate the additional students. This last point may be most significant this year in light of the fact that there is a budget deficit and many of the legislators will be reluctant to increase government programs.

For more information on this bill visit:
http://www.hslda.org/Legislation/State/tx/2003/TXSB30/default.asp

For a more detailed analysis of mandatory kindergarten, read our memo at:
http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000000/00000028.asp

H.B. 214-Part-Time Enrollment of Homeschool Students

On the surface, this bill looks harmless, but HSLDA is concerned. Although some homeschoolers who so choose could enroll their children part-time in public school programs, this bill, if enacted, would create a new category of education under the Texas Code. Up until this time, homeschoolers have clearly been considered private schools. By creating a bill allowing for a new category of students—"home-school students"—the strong possibility of regulation and definition of homeschoolers exists.

It is in the best interest of homeschoolers in Texas to remain in the same loosely regulated category as private school students. If both groups enjoy the same legal status, we will be able to continue to defend the status quo and maintain the freedom homeschools enjoy as private schools.

For more information on this bill visit:
http://www.hslda.org/Legislation/State/tx/2003/TXHB214/default.asp

Child Welfare Reform

The most significant development for this legislative season is in the area of child welfare reform. HSLDA handles social worker contacts everyday. Often, anonymous tipsters call the Child Protective Services (CPS) and fabricate stories about homeschool families. This requires the social worker to come to the home where they always demand entry and the right to interrogate the children separately from their parents. Although HSLDA is able to win this battle for the front door and keep the social workers out and away from the children, it is with much difficulty. The law in Texas is unclear and does not have sufficient due process safeguards for parents.

Two years ago we worked hard to collect over 1,000 signatures to add to a petition that was organized by Gary Gates, a homeschool father who had his children removed by the social services when they were in public school. At that time HSLDA's Texas Legislative Counsel developed several key contacts with the legislators and was able to get commitments from them to push for legislation this year to reform the child welfare system.

HSLDA has participated in several planning sessions in the last six weeks to draft legislation that would protect innocent families from unwanted intrusions by social workers. We are excited about the possibility of the passage of this bill and will be notifying you of the final details and protections in the future weekly updates.

Watch for the next week's "Texas Weekly Update" to read about these and other important bills which HSLDA will be dealing with in the state legislature. Thank you for standing with us for family and freedom in Texas.